A fact almost as certain as the Earth’s rotation around the sun is that a concrete driveway will crack over time. Our house was a total fixer when we bought it and not a lot of advanced thought was put into how to refresh our cracked, sizable half-moon shaped driveway because there were so many other pressing and more expensive issues to deal with.
In the end, our driveway repair didn’t cost very much relative to the rest of the project but it is the one thing that still bothers me about our otherwise perfect (to me) house and landscape. Knowing what I know now, I would have blown the entire thing out and replaced it with something like this.
Plus, the driveway is usually one the first things that people see when approaching your house. First impressions are everything, right? Here are some mistakes we made and why we should have chosen pavers.
We Didn’t Take Time to Understand Our Driveway
This sounds ridiculous, learning the ins and outs of your driveway can prolong its useful life as well as highlight options are for fixing blemishes and cracks or ultimately replacing it when the time comes.
The other honest truth is that a few cracks in our driveway, sizable as they are, were overshadowed by the glee of selecting 60″ ranges and granite counter tops. They frankly did not look as stark against a dilapidated exterior as they do now against a new one.
Here are four primary reasons (though there are others that are less common in Southern California) that cracks may appear:
1. The base wasn’t installed correctly: Sadly, in the case of a remodel the answer sometimes isn’t completely known until demolition begins. As technology and technique improves over time, one might assume that bases under driveways in older homes might not be up to snuff. A compacted base of granite rock is ideal though some contractors cut corners by using sand. The exact base, however, may depend on the type of soil so do some research to see if what your contractor recommends is industry standard.
2. Nearby tree roots: Growing roots can put upward pressure on different points of the driveway, causing it to buckle or crack.
3. Settlement cracking – If you live in Southern California, plan on the ground to shift. It could be due to vibrations from nearby construction or minor earthquakes, which are all too common.
4. Overload – Most driveways are designed to accommodate the weight of cars and small trucks. Backing a giant moving truck on to a driveway can be enough to crack it.
In our case, it was likely due to the fact that the driveway was 45 years old and just at the end of its life. The base probably wasn’t up to modern standards and, of course, we’re not that far from an earthquake fault. But someone came in and told us they could bring it back to life.
We Aren’t Great at DIY
Cracks let in water which can cause expansion and contraction of concrete or result in rust forming on the internal rebar, both resulting in even more cracks. Staying on top of cracks is imperative and you can fix them yourself, however, here is what is involved:
- Kill any weeds growing in the cracks down to the roots. Perhaps wait a week or so to make sure they’re dead.
- Clean the crack with a wire brush or by chiseling rough spots away. The filler needs to bond well to the sides of the crack in order to be effective.
- Vacuum or use an air compressor to blast out remaining debris (the latter is preferred).
- For cracks less than 1/2 an inch, follow manufacturers instructions. You’ll probably be instructed to use a pourable grout, special caulk or concrete sealer.
- It gets trickier for cracks larger than 1/2 inch. The base of the crack should be larger than the top in order to avoid the patching material expanding upward during expansion and contraction. This means you might need to sharpen your chiseling skills. Also, it usually needs to be poured into the crack incrementally depending on the material used.
- Skimping on effort or material will defeat the purpose of the repair. Don’t do it.
A trip to Home Depot or Lowes has everything needed to repair asphalt or concrete cracks. Keep in mind a few things before stepping into the store:
- Are you going to be happy with the aesthetic result? If not, you’ll need to consider resurfacing the entire driveway or replacing it entirely.
- Have you identified a possible reason for the cracks (nearby trees, etc.) and corrected it?
- Is the crack of a size that you can confidently say you can chisel and patch well? If not, hire a professional.
The truth is that my husband may have gone to Harvard, but home repairs aren’t his strong point and I’m too intimidated and busy to tackle it myself.
We Let Someone “Sell Us” Into Resurfacing Our Driveway
Construction fatigue is a dangerous condition. Someone we know had recently resurfaced their driveway and it looked great. It also wasn’t cracked like ours. We called their guy and signed up right away.
The question you need to ask yourself if the driveway has sizable cracks is, “Am I going to be OK if the driveway cracks again shortly after resurfacing?” If the answer is no, don’t do it. Trust me!
Resurfacing involves sweeping a thin layer of concrete with a bonding agent (concrete alone does not bond) over the existing driveway. This is significantly less expensive than replacing the driveway entirely and can be done in a number of attractive colors, as seen above.
Resurfacing your driveway is NOT a solution for hiding unsightly cracks even though your contractor will professionally fill them prior to resurfacing. Ultimately, your driveway may shift causing the filler to drop or release from the sides of the original crack. Then, guess what happens? A big crack in that brand new resurfacing forms in the exact same spot. Again.
In our case, this happened within six months and the local concrete resurfacing company would not fix it because they can’t guarantee that cracking won’t reoccur (which is not exactly how we were sold the product, but that is another story).
Resurfacing is an excellent option if you’re looking to hide stains, give the driveway a refreshed look or are prepared to resurface frequently if the goal is to mask cracking.
Resurfacing Did Not Look as Good as We Thought it Would
The way the sun shines on it highlights a slight sheen on the resurfacing that isn’t noticeable on our friend’s driveway which is much smaller than ours. Plus, the emergence of the old cracks drives me crazy.
For people who can’t tolerate the aesthetics of cracks, like me, pavers are an excellent solution… in fact, they might be the only solution. Replacing a driveway with pure asphalt and concrete may cost less, but it won’t guarantee against future cracking.
- A major benefit of interlocking pavers is the fact that in the event of staining or damage, they can be popped out and replaced.
- Permeable pavers, such as the ones in the photo below, also allow slow seepage of water into the soil, therefore eliminating potentially harmful wastewater run-off into the ocean.
Alternatively, scrap the grass and opt for permeable pavers that allow drainage through the joints. Or, if you like the look of concrete, it’s certainly possible to integrate both into a design.
- Pavers are manufactured to incredibly high standards that create a stronger driveway than poured concrete.
- Pavers can carry a warranty(lifetime product guarantee from breaking and cracking). Poured concrete does not, typically, unless your contractor provides one (very unlikely).
- Pavers usually provide more traction than poured concrete as their surface is non-skid and non-slip.
- Maintenance isn’t a burden with pavers, in fact, it’s minimal in comparison. Remember, poured concrete should be regularly cleaned and sealed.
- It is easy to get an estimate for driveway pavers to identify if the cost suits your budget. The calculator located in the right-sidebar will give you a price range based on square feet.
In the end, we are just starting to discuss a redesign of our entire front yard that involves complete lawn replacement and a paver driveway but I so wish we would have done it right from the beginning. It would have saved us a lot of money, time and huge headache.
Have you ever worked on a household project that didn’t turn out the way you intended? Please share your story with us…